GREENVILLE, S.C. — When shoppers pull into the parking lot of the Farrs Bridge Road Bi-Lo in Berea, S.C., here, they'll immediately notice something different. The store is painted a deeper, warmer color, and it features a redesigned logo. A green leaf — placed where the dash used to be between BI and LO — offers a simple freshness cue, according to Bill Nasshan, Bi-Lo's senior vice president of merchandising and marketing.
Inside, recent changes to the store's design become even more evident.
“You can literally see across the entire store,” Nasshan said. “You can see where the meat department is, you can see into the produce department from the front of the store. You can see where dairy is and so on. It's a more open feel, and that open feel gives you tremendous sightlines.”
The Farrs Bridge Road Bi-Lo is one of the first locations to undergo the company's new redesign program, which itself is part of the broader five-year plan that the company established with its creditors and equity sponsors when it emerged from bankruptcy earlier this year. Rather than making a significant departure from the company's heritage and history, Nasshan said the new design is intended to let customers know that they're shopping in a stronger, better Bi-Lo.
“It's not a new look for the sake of a new look,” he explained. “We've spent a lot of time working with a design company, and we spent a lot of time making sure that what [the redesigned] Bi-Lo looks like — from the outside, through the entrance, through the shopping experience and through the checkstands and service areas — that all of that lives up to what today's customers are looking for, while maintaining our absolute core principles: Always having real savings, being really fresh, and making sure that everything we do, and everything we offer is really relevant to customers.”
For Bi-Lo, part of that relevance involves emphasizing their value proposition to shoppers. Nasshan noted that the company's FuelPerks! and Price Lock programs are emphasized from the time customers walk in the front door. But the new, more open design, offering sightlines that showcase the store's perimeter departments, will also allow Bi-Lo to emphasize some of their other core competencies, such as their fresh produce departments, their full-service deli, meat and seafood departments, the company's signature Lip Lickin' Fried Chicken program, its service bakeries, offering Sweet Dreams custom cakes and cookies, artisan breads, muffins, pastries and doughnuts and its free Wi-Fi cafes.
“The ultimate goal of what we're doing is trying to make sure that our store experience for the customer lives up to the strategic brand pillars, and our brand promise continues to excite people about a stronger, better Bi-Lo. And honestly, it does take care of some deferred maintenance as well.”
As the redesign process continues, the company is evaluating all of its stores based on age and how much maintenance is required, among other criteria. But, they're also looking at stores that are already performing well and estimating how much better they could do with a more up-to-date look, Nasshan said.
“We rationalized our store base and took care of dark leases during the bankruptcy process, so the store base that we've got [now] is the store base that we want,” he added. “In any capital expenditure plan, you're looking to make sure that you cover the entire chain in a certain amount of time. But that's not the sole driver. It's really about making sure that in addition to delivering an incredible experience for the customer, we get a return for our equity sponsor as well.”
Other new fresh food initiatives at the company include a recently announced partnership with Liquid Highway, a local, Greenville-based coffee roaster that has already opened coffee houses staffed with trained baristas in three Greenville-area Bi-Lo locations. There are plans to open three more in the near term.
“We had our own in-store brand called J.J. Poloi's with coffee shops in six stores in the Greenville market. But really, when we looked at our market going forward, we were looking for a partner that was more of an expert in coffee,” explained Allen Reavis, Bi-Lo's director of deli and bakery marketing. “Someone that we could partner with who shared our same passions — offering quality products with premium service, as well as someone with a passion for giving back to the community.”
The full-service, 10-foot kiosk counters are positioned close to the front of the Bi-Lo stores where they're located. All offer premium coffees, lattes and other popular coffee beverages, including proprietary roasts and blends such as their “Liquid Millennium” dark roast, their Mexican French Roast and a special Nicaraguan blend.
Working with another local company gives more of a personal feel to the new coffee shops, Reavis added.
“We really try to support our local manufacturers and vendors, and Liquid Highway has a great following in the Greenville area … You have customers who are loyal to Liquid Highway, and they'll pull by in the morning and come in the store to get their coffee, and we have the opportunity to convert them into regular Bi-Lo shoppers.”
Of course, working with local suppliers and supporting the local community where their stores are located is nothing new to Bi-Lo. Notably, the company celebrated the redesign of the Berea location by donating $1,000 to the senior class of Berea High School in recognition of the school's 100th anniversary, and inviting those seniors over to the store to show off its new look and offer them a free lunch of Lip Lickin' Fried Chicken and other Bi-Lo prepared foods.
Nasshan said similar events would likely be part of many future store redesigns.
“What really has gotten lost is the incredible connection that each and every one of our store directors has made and built in almost every community,” he said. “Store opening programs will include some level of what we've done at our stores in Greer [S.C.] and Berea … We've not gone out and publicized it, but that kind of approach has always been there.”
Regardless, the remodeling program will continue, with another store expected to debut the new look within the next few weeks. Nasshan emphasized that this isn't a “new Bi-Lo,” but rather a better version of the brand that their customers have grown to trust.
“Bi-Lo has had tremendous heritage,” Nasshan said. “It's a brand that has withstood tough times, it's a brand that has done well in good times. Our goal moving forward is to maintain that heritage and maintain the strength of the brand, but enhance it by taking the company and basically have it feel to customers like a better, stronger Bi-Lo.
“Our goal, and our sole purpose, is to provide families that need to save money a real savings opportunity in a manner that doesn't have to sacrifice our unsurpassed freshness and our offering and our services. An offering that is absolutely relevant to what their needs are. And part of relevancy is making sure that we're aligned with the community.”